The number of disabled civil servants who have faced discrimination within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has risen by nearly a quarter in just a year, according to “shocking” and “very worrying” new figures.
More than 1, 400 disabled civil servants who took part in the survey for the Cabinet Office said they had been discriminated against in 2015, compared with 1,038 in 2014.
Although more DWP civil servants (61,019) responded to the 2015 survey than the 2014 survey (54,426), the figures show that the proportion of staff who faced disability-related discrimination rose by 23.5 per cent.
And there were far more staff discriminated against on the grounds of disability in 2015 (1,437) than age (895), caring responsibilities (1,041), race (429), gender (607) or sexual orientation (153).
But the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, has failed to express any concern about the figures or suggest a plan for tackling the problem of rising disability discrimination within his own department.
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell said the figures were “very worrying”, and showed DWP needed to “sort out its own housekeeping”.
The results of the survey – carried out as part of the annual Civil Service People Survey – come as a huge embarrassment for Tomlinson (pictured), who is leading a campaign to make other employers more “disability confident”.
The Disability Confident campaign aims to work with employers to “challenge attitudes towards disability” and “ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations”.
But Baroness Campbell said: “The DWP needs to sort out its own housekeeping, otherwise how can they possibly lead by example on the Disability Confident campaign.”
Her reservations about the campaign had already inspired her to seek an amendment to the welfare reform and work bill, which would have forced the government to publish an annual report on progress towards its target of halving the disability employment gap.
She said: “I think it is essential that the government understand more about the complexities that prevent disabled people entering employment.
“Without adequate data leading to reliable analysis, solutions to this interminable problem will not be found.”
David Gillon, a disabled activist and blogger, said the figures were “shocking”, particularly coming from the department “charged with supporting disabled people”.
He said: “How can we trust DWP to defend our interests when these figures once more demonstrate that DWP are part of the problem, not the solution?”
Gillon said that DWP’s understanding of disability was “so fundamentally negative that it must inevitably leak corrosively through into their dealings with their own disabled staff”.
He said: “DWP discriminate against disabled people wherever they come across them; the surprise would be if they didn’t discriminate against their own staff.”
And he said that Disability Confident was “based on the ridiculous claim that workplace disability discrimination doesn’t exist”, and that the figures “go a long way to explaining why DWP might be so desperate to advocate such a demonstrably false claim”.
He added: “Disability Confident is very heavily based on inspiration-porn and the depiction of the ideal disabled employee as inherently ‘inspiring’.
“It then becomes impossible for a merely normal disabled person to meet this idealized perception of a supercrip.
“When measured against Disability Confident’s favoured Paralympians, entrepreneurs and war heroes, it is sadly unsurprising that managers will judge their own disabled staff lacking, and punish them for it.”
A DWP spokesman refused to say whether Tomlinson was concerned about the figures, what he believed had caused the rise in discrimination, what if anything he planned to do about the problem, or whether the figures showed that he needed to do more to make his own department “disability confident”.
But the spokesman said in a statement: “Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination is unacceptable and where formally reported it will be dealt with in the strongest possible way.”
He added: “It would be overly simplistic to interpret the People Survey findings as reflecting an increase in these incidents.
“The figures are in part a reflection of the work we have been doing to encourage more people to come forward and raise awareness in this important area.”
When it was pointed out that it was an anonymous survey and so did not measure disabled staff who had come forward to report discrimination, he failed to respond.